Obama to forgo public funds for election campaign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Thursday he has decided to forgo public financing of his election campaign against Republican John McCain.

The decision frees him up to collect money privately, which could be a help to him strategically ahead of November’s election.

During the Democratic primary contest to pick his party’s candidate, Obama smashed records for fund-raising, largely on the success he achieved in raising money over the Internet.

“We’ve made the decision not to participate in the public financing system for the general election,” Obama said in a video statement e-mailed to reporters.

Obama said the decision meant his campaign would be forgoing more than $80 million in public funds during the final months of this election. But the move allows him to raise as much private money as he can.

“It’s not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections,” he said. “But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken and we face opponents who’ve become masters at gaming this broken system.”

Obama said his rival McCain’s campaign and the Republican National Committee were fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest groups that can make unlimited donations.

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“From the very beginning of this campaign, I have asked my supporters to avoid that kind of unregulated activity and join us in building a new kind of politics -- and you have,” he said.

“Instead of forcing us to rely on millions from Washington lobbyists and special interest (groups), you’ve fueled this campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20, whatever you can afford,” he said.

“And because you did, we’ve built a grassroots movement of over 1.5 million Americans.”

Obama’s ability to raise huge amounts of money, particularly over the Internet, showed results for him in the Democratic primary contest that turned into a grueling battle against rival Hillary Clinton.

Clinton ended her campaign millions of dollars in debt while Obama was still flush with funds.

Reporting by Caren Bohan and Deborah Charles; Editing by Vicki Allen and Frances Kerry